Follow Here To Purchase The Exchange of Princesses

Author: Chantal Thomas

Translated from the French by John Cullen

Publisher: Other Press

ISBN: 978-1-59051-702-4

Take a step back into the history of early 18th century France and Spain and a little-known story of power, politics, monarchies, arranged marriages and emotionally-abused children begins to surface.

When France’s King Louis X1V dies in 1715, his nephew, Regent of the Kingdom Philippe 11 d'Orléans assumes leadership of the country because heir-apparent Louis XV (great grandson to Louis X1V) was only five years old.  In 1721, fearful of escalating problems between the quarrelsome France and Spain, and in a move to exercise control over the frail young king of France (now eleven years old), Philippe seeks to ensure peace between the two countries and arranges two royal marriages.  

Promising his own twelve year old daughter Louise Élisabeth of Orléans in marriage to Luis of Asturias, (fourteen year old heir to the throne of Spain) and arranging for Luis’ adorable three year old doll-clinging half-sister, (the Spanish Infanta Marie Anne Victoire) to become betrothed to her eleven year old first cousin, King of France Louis XV, the scene is set for drama.

The Exchange of Princesses is the story of four children - betrothed couples Louise and Luis now of Spain, and the Infanta and Louis XV now of France: pawns on the chess board of the nefarious Philippe table.  In January 1722, trapped by Philippe’s influence, familial expectations and state obligations in their respective countries, the two princesses find themselves riding in separate cortèges for days on end until they reach a neutral point in the Pyrenees mountains where they are unloaded, put into the other’s cortège and then travel to their new country as Queens of Spain and France respectively.

Authors always have a choice as to genre-selection for their book.  In  The Exchange of Princesses, there were two clear options: biographical and historical fiction.  Using non-fiction facts, dates etc. as the primary focus for a biography, (specifically press extracts and mostly unpublished letters in this book), without the inclusion of either footnoting or bibliography, a lack of research authenticity for the biographical option is the result of such a choice.

The story of the two princesses in and of itself offers exciting possibilities for great historical fiction because of the sub-stories of scandal, love, deceit, power, politics, arranged marriages and emotional abuse.  Based on true and documented events, a narrative style choice would have allowed the main characters to evoke the interest/sympathy of readers as the princesses emerge encouraging the reader to intimately connect with the main characters of the book.

Sadly, neither genre strongly emerges in the book.  Rather, there is a flip-flop between the two genres resulting in the author missing-the-mark on what could have been an explosive and fascinating book.  Choosing to write the book from both biographical and historical fiction perspective does neither style credit and leaves the reader wanting more.